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Research in Outdoor Education

Abstract

Experience-based Training and Development (EBTD) or Corporate Adventure Training (CAT) has had a short history of usage and a long history of problems· with its credibility. Proponents of EBTD/CAT have claimed it was an effective and appropriate way to build teams, develop individuals and improve companies. They stated their case on a moderate collection of personal anecdotes and testimonies. Opponents of EBTD/CAT have claimed it was a sham, like many of the group oriented encounter techniques of the sixties. They cemented their opinion by pointing to a clear lack of research evidence, failing to substantiate the impact of such programs. With the decreasing value of the development dollar, more companies have questioned the efficacy of EBTD/CAT programming and called for hard data to support its transfer of learning. This study examined changes, over a two year period, in the corporate climate of an Australian company, which chose total employee participation in an EBTD/CAT program. A major Australian government-owned corporation, primarily involved with public service delivery, chose EBTD/CAT as the sole means of training and development for its entire complement of (approximately) 5,000 employees. The main focus of this training was to alter the climate of the organization around the two new cultural concepts of teamwork and empowerment A sample of 100 employees, stratified for gender (male 65% and female 35%) and management level (upper 10%, middle 30% and lower 60% ), was randomly selected from the population of about 500 managers in a company of 5,000 employees. The sample of 100 were surveyed three times (before, during and after treatment), but all 5,000 employees underwent the treatment Treatment consisted of a five day residential EBTD/CAT program during the most recent year (between the dates of July 1, 1990 and June 30, 1991). No other training and development schemes were underway during the two year period of study (from December 1, 1989 to December 31, 1991 ). The EBTD/CAT program.was fairly standard in design, with the first day devoted to socialization activities, icebreakers and deinhibitizers. The next two days consisted of cooperation, communication and trust exercises followed by common group initiative activities and problem solving tasks. The fourth day consisted of a high ropes course, with choice of egress by rappelling or zip wire. The final day incorporated a great deal of personal reflection, solo time and group dialogue around action plans for future challenges. Evening were spent attending lectures by the company facilitators and presenting dramatic skits interpreting the daily events. Although attendance was mandated by the company, the program operated under a "challenge by choice" philosophy and, once in attendance, no employees were forced to participate in any activity against their will. Survey rounds, consisting of three instruments, were administered to subjects on three separate occasions, each approximately one year apart. Instrumentation included three surveys: section m of the Individual-Team-Organization (ITO) survey (Anderson, 1987); the short form of the Organizational-Health (OH) survey (Phillips, 1989): and the Motivational Analysis of Organizations-Climate (MAO-C) survey (Pareek, 1989). The 17% attrition over two years was likely due to employee turnover from company downsizing (estimated at 13% ), and yet attrition was proportionate across strata and reasonable (with a return rate over 80%, non-respondent bias was not an issue). Data met all normality requirements, therefore, two factor ANOVAs were conducted. Two main effects for management level were noted, indicating that in these two cases the three management levels differed on the average of their opinions. All, but a few, analyses showed main effect changes in means across the three times of surveying: before, during and after, indicating that opinions changed over the treatment period. Since the limited studies in EBTD/CAT have concentrated on benefits and changes to the group or to the employee, and have apparently ignored the bottom line of organizational benefit and change (a concern prevalent for many companies) the intent of this study was to track changes in the one aspect of corporate climate. This study does not claim that the EBTD/CAT program caused the changes discussed Regardless of the testimonials from the company executive, the EBTD/CAT program may have contributed to the improvements, but without a control company (almost impossible to obtain under most circumstances) the certainty of causality should not be stated Furthermore, these findings must not be generalized beyond the parameters of this study: changes in corporate climate for a major Australian company government-owned and primarily involved in public service delivery, with management response to the surveys and total employee participation in an EBTD/CAT program over the period 1989-1991. In summary, and in the opinion of three levels of management, but not necessarily all employees, this particular company successfully changed its corporate climate over a period of two years, during which all employees participated in an experience-based training and development or corporate adventure training program only. Overall, the company improved on its planning utility, structure flexibility, systems functioning ( upper managers were least pleased with systematic changes), sensible & supportive roles, positive relationships, excessive delays in workflow, reflection time, and mission and goal clarity during the first year; while concern for getting the job done (rather than accounting for time and cost), alignment, marketplace impact, and profit versus growth decreased over the same period, although decreases were not seen as necessarily detrimental in this case, since the company moved through a desired period of well­ needed readjustment. During the second year, reflection time decreased, but work enjoyment improved (lower managers enjoyed their work least), even though workloads increased over both years. Decreases in planning seriousness, crisis avoidance, purpose contribution, and responsiveness index; increases in stretch; and fluctuations in resource provision, strategic position, purpose clarity, and individual versus organizational goals, were all overshadowed by by complex interactions between the time of survey (before, during or after treatment) and the level of manager (upper, middle or lower) responding. Feedback from the company executive committee highlighted the expected influence of several extraneous environmental variables on.these interactions and attributed some interaction to the treatment of the EBTD/CAT program. Future research ought to broaden the base of knowledge concerning the impact of EBTD/CAT programs on other aspects of corporate climate (motivation, etc.) and deepen the base of knowledge by replicating or extending this study with companies from other nations, involved in other areas of business, and consider all types of employees, not just managers. Despite the inherent problems of controlling for environmental factors, either by formal control group or informal speculation, this type of research is valuable as companies seek evidence on the efficacy of this kind of outdoor learning.

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